EU could do better on environmental farming

Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money intended for environmental projects is instead being used to prop up damaging farmning practices across Europe, according to a report Could Do Better compiled for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds by Birdlife International. The report highlights some of the positive work being done in EU member states with CAP funding which is helping farmers create and protect habitats for wildlife.

‘In principle this European funding is great news for wildlife because it supports agri-environment schemes which protect biodiversity – but the truth is that implementation of the policy by many member states is weak,’

warned RSPB’s head of agriculture policy Gareth Morgan.

‘In compiling this report we found examples of agricultural schemes receiving large amounts of public subsidy from the EU which had no environmental benefit at all, in fact some were causing the degradation of the environment.’

Farmland bird species are in decline across Europe and this is often linked to changes in agricultual activities. Many of these threatened species are extremely senistive to changes in their habitat caused by intensification of farming. For example, the Spanish imperial eagle requires large areas of sparse wood picture rich in rabbit and the eastern European red-footed falcon requires traditional farmland with ponds rich in dragonflies.

‘The findings of this report make it clear that the CAP is still not functioning properly and requires radical reform. Agri-environmental schemes can and do deliver great results for farming and wildlife, but only if member states commit to them properly – otherwise it is simply an exercise in handing out money for nothing.’

‘Some EU governments are clearly unprepared to stand up to the vigorous lobbying of their agricultural sector. If they continue to put forward dodgy agri-environmental schemes which have no positive impact on biodiversity then Brussels should have the backbone to kick them out.’

Examples of money down the drain included €790m in Portugal that has been invested in irrigation projects which will destroy wildlife habitats and increase water over-abstraction. In Cyprus conservation money is being spent on opening forestry roads and creating forest firebreaks which fragment bird habitats and disturb populations. Italy, France and Ireland also get the thumbs down for spending money on agri-environmental schemes that have no impact on normal farming practice and no benefit for the environment.

However, in England agri-environment schemes are judged to have been well designed and to be delivering benefits for biodiversity.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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